At Pueblo Vista Magnet School, we start the year with a unit entitled “How are we like scientists?” At the kindergarten level, students are introduced to the primary five senses we use to observe like scientists: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.
Last Wednesday, I had the most amazing time observing Jarrahdale Pumpkins in the garden with the TK class. We noticed their color (bluish-gray-green) and size (closer to a baking pumpkin than a carving pumpkin). We smelled the flesh inside the hallow cavity (it smelled sweet). We felt the bumps and counted the ribs (about 20) and then we squished the slimy seeds between our fingers. In a week or so, we will taste seeds after roasting them.
Jarrahdales (pronounced Ghirardelli,like the chocolate) are an Australian heirloom variety of pumpkin. They are about 6-8 pounds fully grown and most suitable for pie, although I plan to blend them with potatoes from the garden for a thick fall soup. Jarrahdales are said to be a cross between a Blue Hubbard Squash (from which they must get the color) and Cinderella Pumpkin (from which they must get their shape). How can we cross a squash and a pumpkin, you may ask? Easy–they’re all in the same family.
When I observed these unique pumpkins with second grade students using the “I notice…I wonder…It reminds me of…” routine, one student commented that the pumpkin smelled like cucumber. I agreed and explained that, in fact, cucumbers and pumpkins were related. Not many people are aware just how extensive the cucurbit family is. It consists of over 900 species!
Although cucurbits can cross-pollinate, they only do so within their respective species. A cucumber won’t cross with a pumpkin, for example, but a pumpkin could cross with a zucchini or winter squash. The main categories of cucurbits are: 1.) squash, 2.) cucumber and melons (ex. watermelon), 3.) watermelon, 4.) inedible gourds, and 5.) loofah (yes, the sponge is made from a squash plant).
Pollination of any kind will not occur without the help of a pollinator. All cucurbits have flowers with either male or female parts. The flowers on these trailing vines are just too far away to be wind pollinated, so they rely on an insect pollinator to transfer pollen from the male flower to the female flower. In most cases, a honeybee is an effective pollinator, but emerging research suggests that the specialist known as a “squash bee” is perhaps more efficient.